The Spread of Ashes

AshBorer2015

In my mind there have always been two distinct flavors of USBM. On the one side you have the crust-influenced madness of Woe, Ludicra, and Nachtmystium. Those who wear their love of punk on their sleeves and have a flair for experimentation. The other camp is more mystical. The double-digit songs and hypnotic repetition that was born with Weakling proved to be immensely popular and lives on through the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room, Krallice, and Yellow Eyes. Of these, I’ve always considered Ash Borer the best. While they have sprinklings of the former group, their epic dirges place them more squarely in the second of these made-up camps. I’ve somehow managed to see them more times than I can count, and their incredible performances only solidified their place in my mind as USBM’s torchbearers.

And while it’s been far too long since their last release, the individual members have been far from silent. 2015 has seen an eruption of side projects churning out incredible music that is easily traced back to their core sound. The following were all released in the past few months and contain at least one Ash Borer member.

Vanum


The highest profile name on this list, Vanum recently released their debut on Profound Lore. It’s a shock they haven’t garnered more attention, as the band is clearly of the highest quality and very much aligned with the rest of the label’s roster. Very similar to Ash Borer, Vanum play a slightly-atmospheric form of black metal; albeit with more polish and a couple minutes trimmed from the song lengths. Nods to post-rock seep through occasionally, with songs varying as they still stay rooted. This is a shining continuation of a sound the members helped create.

Predatory Light


Possibly the best extreme metal band that has ever come out of Seattle, Anhedonist’s brand of meloncholic death/doom was a revelation, so it was a major blow to our local scene when they called it quits. So when their former bassist joined forces with Ash Borer’s Kyle Morgan, it was an exciting announcement. And their union sounds uncannily like the two bands fused together. The dreary, heavy assault has a clear sheen of black metal mixed in that should appeal to fans of all things murky and punishing. Their recent split with Vorde, who in turn play longform black metal with a touch of psychedelia, is a fantastic collaboration.

Uškumgallu


Focusing on the more intense side of Ash Borer’s influence, Uškumgallu go right for the throat with their more simplistic attack. A punk flavor occasionally erupts for a brief period or two, a great complement to the bleak nature of their sound. The production on this demo is murky at best, but it’s clear that was intention.

Serum Dreg


With the same two members as Uškumgallu, Serum Dreg sees them switching duties slightly for a wholly different sound. Ethereal yet intense, they take on a death metal structure while playing an interesting form of black metal that’s clearly influenced by sludge and crust. What sound like interesting guitar riffs are hidden beneath overpowering bass and and reverbed vocals, but at least they’re taking risks with their mix—a rarity in this type of music.

The overwhelming number of projects emerging from the Ash Borer camp shows the members at the height of their creative output. I can’t wait to see that energy captured together when the band works as one again.

FALSE – Untitled

FALSE - Untitled LP

I can trace my growth from a casual metal fan to a diehard longhair to the summer of 2011. I had just started my love affair with Ludicra when they abruptly decided to call it quits. Upset and confused, I began scouring the internet to fill the forward-thinking, black hole in my heart. A whole new world of music was brought to my attention, a cavernous pit of talent in which I had simply never put forth the effort to explore. But among this wealth of incredible music reaching me, one band had a singularly profound effect. While looking into a relatively new distro and vinyl label called Gilead Media, I started to hear some buzz about a shadowy collective from the Midwest. Despite the fact they had only two recorded songs, the way people wrote about them made me feel like I was witnessing the birth of something special, something that only comes along every decade or so. And indeed, they are.

I obsessively listened to those two tracks from the Untitled EP over and over, finding hidden nuance upon every return. Just 24 minutes of music, they contained endless hours of exploration an ever-changing personal meaning.The next year found me reacting much the same way with “Heavy as a Church Tower”, the single longform track they contributed to a split with Barghest. What followed was almost three years of silence. For a time when fans have grown used to bands issuing updates on an almost hourly basis, this felt like an eternity. It wouldn’t have been at all unexpected for FALSE to quietly disband after a few years of seeming inactivity, but having seen them live and witnessing their passion and dedication, I refused to believe they were finished.

So finally, here we are. A proper FALSE full-length, and one of epic proportions. This new Untitled work more than doubles their back catalog in both time and total number of tracks, and it was absolutely worth the wait. Without making any drastic changes to their formula, the music is as engrossing and intense as before. But this time it’s a proper journey into gorgeous extremity, rather than just a foray. The result is a breathtaking bombardment on all the senses. While any attempt at categorization couldn’t possibly do their unique sound justice, I like to view the Minneapolis sextet as the perfect bridge between the upper echelon of the Second Wave and nuanced USBM experimentation. For those of us who speak names like Emperor and Weakling in hushed, reverent tones there is no din more exciting than the one FALSE creates. Grandiose, thrilling, and relentless, Untitled is ultimately a testament to how beautiful sheer extremity can be.

This album contains everything I love about black metal, and metal as a whole. Densely layered, unrelenting, abrasive, yet containing just enough rounded edges and gripping melodies to keep a sense of humanity to it all. It’s not singularly riffs, atmosphere or composition that make FALSE masters of their craft. They masterfully rely on a balance of all their tools to arrange their assault. The choice to record the guitars and drums live perfectly captures their intensity and dedication to an undoctored, natural sound. Hearing a breath taken before a torrent of fiery screams pour forth or the untriggered bass drums as they speed along along only adds to the drama. The way Untitled was recorded is as close to experiencing FALSE live show as one can get, though nothing will ever be that powerful. There’s hardly a moment’s respite as they race at a breakneck pace through the five tracks; only when a masterful tempo shift or brief intro is inserted do FALSE give themselves or the listener a chance to take a breath. And that’s part of what makes Untitled so utterly brilliant.

It’s rare that the initial hype of a new band ever flourishes into something long-lasting or meaningful, but FALSE are so far beyond what a normal group is capable of that in this case it’s unsurprising. I’ve waited patiently for a full release and now that it’s here it’s almost overpowering, overwhelming. Their style of unrelenting, aggressively beautiful black metal has grown stronger as they’ve aged and this hour of attention-demanding sonic beauty is unlike any other. With this flawless full-length FALSE prove they are a force to be reckoned with, peerless, and one of the most important bands of the decade.

The Ice Age Returns

Istapp

One of 2010’s best albums was the debut of Swedish melodic black metallers Istapp. Blekinge is a catchy, icy romp that pays homage to the countrymen’s history of black metal with an ear for melody. It wasn’t a typical release for Metal Blade Records, but instead of marketing that fact the label offered the band little to no promotion and then promptly dropped them when the album didn’t sell well.

I had assumed that was it for Istapp but now, five years later, it seems the band has reformed as a duo and is set to release their follow-up on Trollzorn Records. Frostbiten has been completely recorded, and the band offered a sneak peak. It’s very similar to what they were doing before, but such a triumphant sound is very worthy of more exploration. I’ll be sure to keep you updated when more information or music comes available.